If I Had 48 Million Dollars (PG)
I was never a gambler. I didn't like the atmosphere of the track and the casinos were too loud and crowded for me. I didn't play cards for money or join the sports pools at work. I was a working man raising a family and every buck was important to me.
One gambling vice I did partake in, however, was buying the occasional lottery ticket. My father liked stuffing a scratch ticket in our socking at Christmas and we dreamed of becoming instant millionaires. I continued that family tradition when I started my own family, usually letting one of my kids scratch the ticket with a dime when I got home on Friday nights.
It was fun to watch the kids faces light up with excitement when I'd hand them a virgin card but I'd feel sorry for them when the card turned out to be a dud. We won a handful of money over the years, but never more than a couple of hundred bucks at any given time and I know I spent much more than I won buying tickets. I split any winnings with the kids and we made them bank half of their take.
It was easy to get compulsive about the temptation of ticket scratching and I'd find myself trying one more time on any given day to get the winner, but I disciplined myself to a strict weekly budget for the tickets and I rarely deviated from that plan.
What was most fun for me over the years was playing the "If I Had a Million Dollars" game with daughter Sheryl and son Terry. Dreaming about winning was almost more important than actually winning and it helped instill a sense of responsibility, charity, and philanthropy in the kids when we talked about money.
Our favorite song was "If I Had A Million Dollars" by the Barenaked Ladies. It was a fun little ditty by the Canadian group and we enjoyed singing it, almost as an ode to our hopes of winning some day. It was an easy song to sing and the tune became our own private little family theme song. The song was released when Sheryl and Terry were still young enough to appreciate the lyrics, dream about the money, and we even made up our own lyrics. Plus we had great fun teasing each other about bare naked ladies!
If I had a million dollars - if I had a million dollars
Well, I'd buy you a house - I would buy you a house
And if I had a million dollars - if I had a million dollars
I'd buy you furniture for your house - maybe a nice chesterfield or an ottoman
And if I had a million dollars - if I had a million dollars
Well, I'd buy you a K-Car - a nice Reliant automobile
And if I had a million dollars I'd buy your love
If I had a million dollars
I'd build a tree fort in our yard
If I had a million dollars
You could help, it wouldn't be that hard
If I had a million dollars
Maybe we could put like a little tiny fridge in there somewhere
You know, we could just go up there and hang out. Like open the fridge and stuff. There would already be foods laid out for us, like little pre-wrapped sausages and things, mmm. They have pre-wrapped sausages but they don't have pre-wrapped bacon. Well, can you blame 'em? Uh, yeah!
If I had a million dollars - if I had a million dollars
Well, I'd buy you a fur coat - but not a real fur coat, that's cruel
And if I had a million dollars - if I had a million dollars
Well, I'd buy you an exotic pet - yep, like a llama or an emu
And if I had a million dollars - if I had a million dollars
Well, I'd buy you John Merrick's remains - ooh, all them crazy elephant bones
And if I had a million dollars I'd buy your love
If I had a million dollars
We wouldn't have to walk to the store
If I had a million dollars
We'd take a limousine 'cause it costs more
If I had a million dollars
We wouldn't have to eat Kraft Dinner
But we would eat Kraft Dinner. Of course we would, we'd just eat more. And buy really expensive ketchups with it. That's right, all the fanciest Dijon ketchups! Mmm. Mmm-hmm.
If I had a million dollars - If I had a million dollars
Well, I'd buy you a green dress - but not a real green dress, that's cruel
And if I had a million dollars - if I had a million dollars
Well, I'd buy you some art - a Picasso or a Garfunkel
If I had a million dollars - if I had a million dollars
Well, I'd buy you a monkey - haven't you always wanted a monkey
If I had a million dollars I'd buy your love
If I had a million dollars, if I had a million dollars
If I had a million dollars, if I had a million dollars
If I had a million dollars, I'd be rich
I'd often ask the kids what they would do if they had a million dollars and their answer would change over the years, depending on their moods, their age, their outlook, and their temperament.
Sheryl was much more altruistic than her kid brother, insisting she would give a percentage of her winnings to the church and other charities which made me feel good about her outlook on life.
"What would you do if you had a million dollars, Dad?" Sheryl asked me in all seriousness whenever we talked about winning the money.
"If I had a million dollars, I'd buy an elephant so I'd have a trunk," I'd reply with a grin, changing the line to other quips but always keeping the subject light hearted and silly to remind the kids that money isn't the most serious matter to worry about.
But when we were serious about the subject I would ask the kids, "What would you do with the money that you couldn't do right now?" because I believed it was important to talk about the value of money and I wanted them to think about what they could do without money.
I would remind the kids that plenty of rich people do stupid things with their money and I offered the usual clichés about money, like not being able to buy happiness and how plenty of instant millionaires ended up broke or dead after wasting their windfall.
Terry said he'd never work if he had a million dollars, but my response to him was, "And what would you do with your life?" I would ask the kids how much money is enough? Do millionaires dream of being billionaires? Why does a top tier sports star making $40 million and claiming he loves his team and wants to stay, still hold out for another million?
Terry became more cynical as he grew older. "I would do absolutely nothing," he said when I asked him the million dollar question when he was sixteen. "I would just sit on my can all day and relax because if I had a million dollars, I wouldn't have to sit in a traffic jam, clean toilets, listen to some dumb boss, or be told what to do."
The million dollar game became less fun as the kids grew older and became more pessimistic, skeptical, and sarcastic about life but I hoped our innocent conversations on the subject kept them grounded when it came to values, compassion, and self-worth.
I tried to be a good husband, Dad, and provider. I drove long distance rigs for a living so I was gone a lot and that was a burden for the family. My wife Wendy worked too, becoming more independent and successful in her career as the years passed and our marriage began to suffer when she began earning more money than me and prospered as a respected thriving business woman.
Our marriage was already strained with me being on the road so much and we didn't have as much in common as our class differences continued to put a gulf between us. Wendy enjoyed the freedom her business success and I think she was embarrassed to be married to a truck driver as her social network became increasingly high end as the owner of a plush antique business.
We stayed together for the children's sake until the kids were old enough to deal with the reality of our failure. Wendy eventually moved out and I became a lonely weekend Dad. Wendy met someone on her equal social level and she eventually married this guy. I never forgave her for rejecting me but Sheryl would remind me that her mom was happy so I tried to let it go.
I continued driving truck and I remained in the start-up house Wendy and I bought as newlyweds. The kids moved on but I continued the family tradition of buying the weekly scratch tickets and the occasional Powerball and other games, depending on what state I happened to be driving through that week. I stuck to my lottery budget and continued splitting any winnings with the kids although I usually had to mail them their take since Sheryl was too busy to stop by and Terry had pretty much disowned me.
"This is to buy the elephant so I can have a trunk," I'd say to myself whenever I purchased a ticket.
After Wendy left and the kids started their own lives, I escaped into my job to forget about my miseries. What had been a curse when the job took me away from my family now became my solace as the open road helped me forget about my loneliness and failures. The money was okay as long as I kept the mileage up.
But many hours on the road with bad drivers, heavy traffic, and bad weather sometimes wore me down. Long periods of stationary sitting and the bumps of the road were hard on the back, and the solitude of the rig was both a blessing and a nuisance, no matter what was on the radio.
I prided myself on my safety record and my reputation as a good driver. I never tailgated, I tried to be reasonable with my speed, and I was both cautious and courteous behind the wheel and in the various truck stops I frequented. I expanded my circumference of travel once Wendy left, heading further west and south for longer periods of time. I always had a camera with me and I took photographs of images and sights that caught my interest. During long stretches of empty road, I would talk to myself to stay awake and aware.
Driving on the open road produces long stretches of time that can be a challenge to the psyche. Hearing a sad song a hundred miles from nowhere in the middle of the night can be a bummer and the motion of the rig kept me in perpetual movement. Sometimes, though, it didn't feel like I was moving at all when I drove.
The hours were endless and sleeping in the small cot in the back of the cab wasn't the Ritz, but the food at the truck stops was pretty good and the scenery from the truck window was never disappointing. No matter how many times I travelled a particular route, I always saw something new and different each time I was on the road.
Truck drivers are part of a fraternity and I had friends and acquaintances spread across the country. Strangers became someone I knew as long as we were both truck drivers and I had my favorite waitresses, gas station guys, and cooks at various stops along the way. I was friendly and eager to share my truck driving experiences with my fellow drivers and I enjoyed the camaraderie.
The biggest change I saw in the truck driving field during my career was that women were changing the face of the trucking industry. Many women drivers paired up with their husbands or partners for long-distance trips to feel safer and I had no issues with a female driver although I often warned the rookies of both sexes not to romanticize the trucker lifestyle as some kind of a continuously paid vacation.
Driving a rig requires skill and concentration and it can be difficult because of the higher weight and more complicated handling. Then there are health and sanitation considerations like how to avoid a sedentary lifestyle when spending so much time behind the wheel, how to skip a shower and still stay clean, and what to do if you have to use the restroom and there's not a facility in sight.
As much as I loved the open road, it was always nice to come home again for a respite, even after Wendy left and I returned to an empty nest. I would recharge my batteries, stand down for a few days relaxing and catching up on errands and chores, check in with Sheryl, and then hit the open road again. It was a bit of a nomad's life once my marriage ended but I enjoyed a few romances on the road and I had no complaints about the job even though it cost me my family.
I bought a one dollar Quick Pick ticket at a truck stop in southern Kansas on my way through because it was Friday afternoon and that was my traditional time to purchase a ticket. I stuffed it behind the cab visor and forgot about it as I continued my drive east, home to Hillsboro a thousand miles away.
A few days later at home, I was dozing on the couch watching a ball game and I was only half awake when the news came on. I thought I heard the newscaster report that someone had won the Powerball jackpot at a truck stop in south central Kansas. I didn't think much of it until I remembered that I had bought a ticket at a truck stop in south central Kansas!
It was nearly one in the morning, but I trotted out to the truck and retrieved the ticket from the cab. I think one of the reasons Wendy left me was because she hated having my big rig parked in the driveway! I returned to the house and logged onto the Lottery's website, still half asleep and never truly believing I'd have the winning ticket in my possession.
It was a life-changing moment when I stared at the computer screen, looking back and forth at it and my ticket, unable to fathom that I had actually matched the Powerball number. At first, I was shocked. Then I was excited. Finally, I became ecstatic and began jumping up and down, hooping and hollering and running all over the house, laughing hysterically like some deranged lunatic.
But I stopped dead in my tracks when I realized how empty I felt learning the news alone. There was no one to wake up and share the moment with. There was no one to celebrate the winning feeling. All those years of playing the "If I Had a Million Dollars" game with my kids and now here I was, an instant millionaire, and I was completely alone.
It occurred to me at that moment that it really didn't matter that I had won a million dollars. I was still a divorced dad living in an empty house with no family. Who cared about the money when I was standing alone in the dark feeling miserable?
I wasn't sure how much I'd won, having forgotten how much the jackpot was worth when I bought the ticket. I squinted at the computer screen and realized I had won 96.6 million dollars! I had to sit down, overwhelmed by enormity of what was happening to me.
I promised Wendy that I would quit driving truck if I ever won the Powerball jackpot and now it had happened. But Wendy was married to someone else, the kids were gone, and what would I do if I quit driving truck?
I didn't sleep for the rest of the night. I dug out some of Sheryl's drawings and essays I kept over the years on the subject of 'If I Had a Million Dollars.' One drawing Sheryl did when she was around eight years old really melted my heart.
"If I had a Million Dollars, I would buy Daddy the Moon so he could have all the cheese he ever wanted" read the caption of her drawing showing me holding the moon. Staring at the drawing, I realized that I had a duty and an obligation to finally put my money where my mouth was now that I actually did have millions of dollars.
I determined that night that I would keep my winnings a secret. I didn't want every person I ever knew coming back into my life pretending to be my best friend. I didn't want every charity, hard luck case, and crack pot schemer knocking on my front door asking for a hand-out, a loan, or a subsidy. Most importantly, I didn't want any of my family relationships or friendships to change just because I had money.
I made an appointment with local lawyer Steve Stoddard who I had gone to school with and I let him know I was a Powerball winner. Stoddard advised me to find people I could trust, including an accountant, a financial adviser and lawyer.
"I trust you as my lawyer, Steve," I let him know. "You find me a knowledgeable and dependable accountant and adviser."
The worst news for me was learning that the lottery was required by public information laws to release the name and hometown of the winner. I was adamant about keeping my new found fortune secret, so Steve wrote up a contract and I paid a guy in the Kansas area One Million Dollars to claim to be the winner so my name would be kept out of the public domain.
I had the choice of taking an annuity option of $96.6 million paid in 30 payments over 29 years or the cash option of $48.3 million paid in one lump sum. I took the cash option lump sum partly because I would most likely be dead before 29 years were up but mostly because of the adage I had told the kids for years: how much money is enough?
Steve arranged a special account at the bank because I couldn't deposit $48.6 million dollars in my checking account! My financial advisor helped me set up a Foundation as well as a legacy, a trust fund, and an endowment for my grandkids. I told Steve that the Trust fund was The Million Dollar Club – Sheryl and Terry would both receive a surprise one million dollars upon my death with the expressed stipulation in the will that they would have to do something with some of the money like we talked about when they were kids.
I invested a fair chuck of the winnings in low risk stocks and bonds as a way of deflecting some of the tax issues and I combined Sheryl and Terry's name to come up with my new Foundation, "The Sherry Foundation."
I wanted the Sherry Foundation to do good work and although I delegated the administrative functioning to a firm in Boston (the Boston address would surly confuse local Blue County awardees), I was the ultimate decision maker for what causes and charities the Sherry Foundation would support.
The Sherry Foundation was a not-for-profit charitable 501(c) corporation qualified as a tax-exempt charity with a simple mission of connecting people in need with the resources to succeed, even if that resource was a cash handout. I wanted to focus on small-scale needs to give people a chance to succeed in life by a simple act of kindness or charity. I should have named the Foundation the "If I Had A Million Dollars" Foundation but I liked the personal touch of Sherry and stuck with that name.
My new found financial freedom allowed me to be more giving and open. I enjoyed performing random acts of kindness although I was less inclined to be flashy around town because I didn't want word getting out that I had a generous reputation!
I carried several one hundred dollar bills in my wallet, especially when I was on the road, and if I noticed a particular waitress being extra kind to me or someone else in the establishment, I'd leave her a hundred dollar tip. If I saw someone who looked down on their luck I would anonymously pick up their tab. I had taken the "If I Had a Million Dollars" game to heart and I tried to live its philosophy every day now that I had the extra resources to do so.
What I quickly learned through my new vision was that there are people in need all over the place. Every time I read the newspaper, I'd come across a story of unfortunate individuals who suffered a loss or needed some kind of help. I wanted the Sherry Foundation's mission to be able to help out some of these people, whether it was something as simple as providing school supplies to a under-budgeted school system to something as meaningful as paying the operation for some sick kid with no family health insurance.
I was the decider on what the foundation would sponsor, depressingly aware that the foundation could not help every situation, tragedy, and sorrow out there. I usually responded to how my heart reacted, keeping in mind the theory and philosophy of playing it forward and performing random acts of kindness. I kept a stash of cash hidden in my rig for instant action when there was no time to contact the Foundation.
The Sherry Foundation didn't make its first cash pay out to a cause for more than a year after I won the Powerball. Nearly fourteen months after my change of life moment, I made an appointment with Father Misiaszek who was the pastor at Hillsboro's St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish.
"I haven't seen you around lately," Father Misiaszek remarked once all the small talk pleasantries were exchanged when I met with him in the parish rectory.
We were seated in his study, Father behind his large oak desk, me on the other side in a smaller chair. He was a slim man in his late sixties with sandy gray hair, large glasses and a polish brogue. He had been at the parish for as long as I could remember.
"I haven't been around," I admitted. "This is Wendy's home parish. I didn't want to make her feel uncomfortable."
"I haven't seen her around either," Father told me with equal disappointment.
"I didn't know," I said, slightly embarrassed.
Wendy and I both grew up in Hillsboro, but she was a polish girl who attended Kostka while I went to St. Patrick's, the larger Irish Church. Wendy was much more of an ardent practicing Catholic than I was. We married at Kostka and we brought the kids up ther, but once our marriage fell apart I didn't feel worthy to attend church anymore.
"Is there a problem?" Father wanted to know.
"No problem," I assured him. "Other than me being a divorced lapsed Catholic."
"You can still worship even if you don't receive, Matt," Father reminded me.
"I understand," I replied. "But that's not why I'm here."
"Why are you here?"
"I remember several times over the years you preaching from the pulpit about the sins and greed of money," I said.
"Yes," he agreed.
"You liked to say that everybody prays to win the lottery but that you doubted anyone would come see you if they actually won," I said.
"I have yet to have anybody come to me with a check after they won," Father confirmed. "We had a parishioner who won $500,000 at the Casino a few years ago. Front page story. How much of that money do you think this parish saw?"
"Ten bucks?" I joked.
"Zilch," The priest replied sadly.
"Well, I'm here to change your batting average, Father," I said, pulling an envelope out of my vest pocket. "I won the lottery."
I handed the Priest the envelope and he looked at me with perplexed fascination. He opened the envelope and pulled out the $500,000 Check from the Sherry Foundation.
"Is this some sort of sick joke?" he asked.
"No joke, Father," I assured him. "That's my foundation and you're holding the first check the Foundation has issued. I wanted you to be the initial recipient."
Father put the check down on his desk blotter and looked at me. "You haven't been to church in years, you left the parish, and now you're back to make a donation of this size?"
I shrugged my shoulders.
"Why?" He wanted to know. "Why would you do this?"
"Why not?" I reasoned.
"There has got to be something more to it than that."
"This parish made a difference for me and my family, Father," I explained. "I believe in the Faith even if I'm not practicing it right now. Why wouldn't I give back if I had the chance?"
"Because it would be easier not too," Father answered.
"I hear you," I said, but then I explained the years of playing the If I Had a Million Dollar game and that somehow winning the Powerball felt like an act of God and that I wanted to give back some of what I had been given.
"Then you understand the teachings of Christ," Father said.
"This has to remain anonymous," I told him. "I would have done this in the confessional but I didn't think that would be appropriate."
"You do need to go to confession," he told me. "Reconcile your sins, repent, and come back to the church, Matt."
"You can't tell anybody that the Sherry Foundation is me either," I insisted.
"I am reminded of Matthew 6:5," Father revealed.
"Which one is that?"
"'And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.'" Father stood and reached his hand out. "Matt, I am convinced that you will receive your reward in full."
I stood and accepted his hand. "Thanks, Father."
"Come back," Father urged. "Worship with us. You don't have to abandon your Faith because your marriage failed. Come back and see how your money is spent."
"Use the money wisely, Father," I said as I headed for the front door.
I laughed when I turned back and saw him gawking at me as if I was some sort of angel sent to test him.
I liked feeling good about doing good and I especially liked doing it stealth. I loved sitting in the cab of my truck watching the reaction of a waitress through the diner window when she went to pick up my plates and found a hundred dollar bill as a tip. It was always worth the price of admission.
My new found attitude was never really about the money, although money usually played a role in my random acts of kindness as a member of the 'If I Had a Million Dollars' club. Sometimes, money had very little to do with my intervention. One time, I was driving through the middle of now where far away from any town and I noticed a kid sitting on the side of the road with a bike. I stopped to see if he needed help and he told me he had bent his rim and flattened his tire. He explained that he used the bike to ride nearly twelve miles one way every day to visit his ailing grandmother and do some chores around the house for her.
He had walked the bike for miles on this day and was taking a rest. I gave him a ride to the nearest town, but the kid didn't have the money to fix the bike so I gave him fifty bucks when I left him at the bike place. He had a look of wonderment in his eyes, moved by my simple gesture and that was worth more than any amount of money.
Another time, I was at a gas station and saw this woman putting two dollars worth of gas in her beat up old car packed with three kids.
"Keep going," I told her.
"Excuse me?" She asked.
"Fill it up," I said. "On me."
She burst into tears and I had to take over pumping the gas for her because she was too overwhelmed to do it herself. Crying over a tank of gas? I knew her life had to be full of struggle and challenge and I drove for miles with a smile on my face when I left her knowing I had changed her day for the better.
I found that many people were awestruck when a stranger like me came along to help out, no matter how small the deed. Usually, it was the thought and gesture that counted and I would watch as people in horrible moods facing some sort of problematic situation in their life would undergo an almost instantaneous transformation in their outlook and attitude simply because someone was nice. Many couldn't stop smiling with happiness when they experienced unconditional generosity.
I was in a restaurant eating dinner one evening and I noticed three teenaged couples in the table across from me. One guy kept asking one of the girls what she was going to order. She said a steak. Each person ordered, but the kid asking the question said he wasn't very hungry and that he only wanted a soda. He excused himself and I followed him into the restroom.
"Here," I said, handing him a hundred dollar bill knowing he didn't have enough money to order for both himself and his girl. "Why don't you get yourself something to eat? Pick up everybody's tab if you want."
The kid was flabbergasted and he didn't want to take the money but I told him it would make my day if he did.
"It would make your day?" he asked with confusion.
"Sure," I said.
"Why would you do something like this for a stranger?" He wanted to know.
Why not?" I replied with a grin.
I honestly believed that I was doing God's work and that God had given me the potential to do great things in my life. Before I won that winning ticket, I had been going through the motions, forgetting about the joy and excitement of wondering what it would be like if I had a million dollars. Winning the Powerball had given me a wake up call and offered me a new look at life no matter how down I was feeling about my own personal situation. Everybody needed a helping hand and if I could show in my small way that there was still good in this world maybe I could pass that attitude along too. What I really learned from my random acts of kindness was that I had become a much better and happier person doing what I was doing. It never occurred to me that I would get so much by giving.
People wondered if there was a new romance in my life having noticed the positive change in my disposition, but how could I tell them that my new attitude had everything to do with helping others and little to do with my own wants and needs?
I was looking at books in a book store one day and overheard a young and excited reader picking out several books she wanted to buy and read.
"I'm sorry, honey, but I only have enough money for one book," her mother informed her.
I poked my head around the racks and saw how disappointed the girl looked as she tried to decide which book to pick. I handed her a one hundred dollar bill and said "Pick them all" as I kept on walking, disappearing into the crowd before she or her mother could even react.
I hid behind a column outside the store and watched as the mother and daughter came out of the bookstore a few moments later. The girl's eyes were still wide and she was holding her smiling mother's hand as she clutched her bag of books to her chest with the other arm. I smiled to myself and walked the other way, knowing I made a small difference in one kid's life.
I became a much more confident, personable and daring person as a member of the If I Had a Million Dollar Club. I wasn't timid about approaching people if I sensed they were having difficulty or were obviously in need of help. Some might think I was tempting fate and inviting trouble by being so willing to be helpful, but I saw it as a calling.
I was walking through Donovan's Department Store in Greenville one afternoon when I noticed a twenty-something year old woman sitting in one of the waiting area chairs with her head buried in her hands. I took a seat across from her and waited for her to look up.
"You okay?" I asked when she finally caught my eye.
"I've had better days," she admitted with a sigh. "Weeks," she added. "Months." She pouted.
""It's not your problem," she said.
"How do you know?" I asked.
She looked at me with a frown. "This has nothing to do with you, thanks," she said, clearly uncomfortable with the conversation.
"What if I'm just a Good Samaritan wanting to help out?"
"Do I look that much like a lost soul?" She asked with embarrassment.
"People are helped here all the time." I assured her.
"At Donovans?" she asked, confused. "Do you work here?"
"No," I admitted.
"Listen, I'm not homeless or anything, in case you're wondering."
"I wasn't wondering that."
"I had a job, until recently. I have an apartment, for now anyway," she said. "I have a boyfriend," she added with emphasis.
"What don't you have?"
She bit her lip and looked at me with annoyance. "Do I really look that pathetically pitiful to you?"
"Not at all," I replied. "You just look sad."
"Who are you?" she asked. "And why are you bothering me?"
"I'm Matt, and I don't mean to be bothering you," I answered. "You just look a little troubled. I wanted to be sure you're okay."
"Why do you care?" She asked suspiciously.
"Oh, because I woke up this morning feeling like I should do something nice for someone," I let her know with a smile.
"Anyone?" She asked, rolling her eyes. "Just pick some random person like me?"
"Sure," I said. "Why not?"
"So you came to Donovan's Department Store looking for someone and decided that I would be the recipient of your random act of kindness?"
"Sure," I repeated. "Why not?"
"I'm sorry, but life just doesn't work that way," She decided.
"What's your name?"
"I'm not going to tell you," she said defensively.
"I already told you mine," I reminded her.
"It's Erin," she reluctantly revealed.
"Well, Erin, if you need any help, I'm at your service."
She was quiet for a moment, eyeing me with doubt while considering my proposition. "You're weird," she concluded.
"Are you ready to tell me what's wrong?"
"I'm supposed to be going to a wedding and I have nothing to wear," she said with annoyance. "There, you happy?"
"Why can't you find something to wear?"
"When I said I have nothing to wear, what I meant to say is that I couldn't find anything I can afford to wear."
"This is a formal wedding?"
"Very elegant," she confirmed.
"Lucky I came along then," I grinned. "I'll pay for your elegant gown."
"Right," she said. "I just met you and you're going to buy me an expensive dress?"
"Sure," I said. "Why not?"
"You're not going away, are you?"
I nodded my head no. "Trust kindness," I whispered.
She tentatively stood and looked at me. "Formals are on the third floor." She said it like she was daring me and she was surprised when I jumped from my chair.
"Great," I said. "Let's go!"
She hesitantly followed as I headed for the elevator.
"We are looking for an elegant gown for this beautiful young woman," I told the middle aged sales lady when we arrived in the formal dress section and I could see that the uncomfortable Erin was blushing.
"My name is Mary Anne I would be glad to help this beautiful young woman find an elegant gown," the smiling sales lady replied.
I patiently waited while Erin tried on several dresses and I could tell that she was uncomfortable with the entire process, still believing the strange episode was some sort of gag. She finally settled on a beautiful yellow gown with an empire waist, embellished bodice, and draped chiffon.
"You look very pretty," I assured her.
She gazed at herself in the mirror and marveled at her own reflection while I grinned like a fool. Erin blushed and then glanced shyly at the floor.
"You look like a Princess," I said.
"I can't afford this dress," she bluntly informed me.
"I can," I effortless replied.
"What's the catch?" She asked, her eyes tearing up.
"No catch," I replied.
"You buy the dress and I just walk out of here?"
"Sure," I said. "Why not?"
Erin sighed. "If only it were that easy," she said sadly before disappearing into the dressing room to change into her street clothes, leaving the dress behind.
I motioned for Mary Anne to hurry to the cash register where I quickly paid for the dress.
"Give it to her when she comes out," I said, trotting toward the stairs before Erin emerged from the dressing room.
Instead of disappearing down the stairs, I tip toed up to the fourth floor and spied on Erin as she came out of the dressing room. She glanced around and saw that I was gone. I could see her face fall with disappointment, hardly surprised that the entire episode had been some sick rouse.
"Thanks for your time," Erin said to Mary Anne as she started for the door.
"Wait, Miss, you father paid for the dress," Mary Anne called out. "I'm boxing it up now."
"What?" Erin stopped dead in her tracks and stared at Mary Anne. "What did you say?"
"Your dress, Miss. Your father took care of it."
"Where did he go?" Erin glanced around with shocked disbelief.
"He left, dear," Mary Anne replied.
Erin walked to the counter in a daze and stared open mouthed as she watched Mary Anne finish boxing the dress. I could see tears in her eyes as she walked to the elevator with the dress box in her hands and I sat down on the stairs with an overwhelming sense of contented satisfaction knowing that Erin was going to be the happiest and prettiest person at the wedding.
There was no point quitting my job. What would I do all day if I didn't have a rig to keep me occupied? People would get suspicious if I was unemployed but still had plenty of money to live on. I could dictate my hours and routes now because a weekly pay check was no longer my top priority, but I enjoyed being a working man and I knew the open road would offer plenty of chances to explore membership in the If I Had a Million Dollars Club without risking my anonymity.
One day, I was driving east on the interstate for home, following a car for several miles. I noticed tears streaming down the face of the woman driving when I caught a glimpse her face in my outside rear view mirror. Her blonde hair was matted and tangled and it looked like there was a bruise over her left eye. There was dry blood on the corner of her mouth and a kid, no more than four or five years old, was asleep in the passenger seat, his head resting against the door window. The car drifted over the center line a few times and I knew she was not focused on her driving because she was so upset.
We leap-frogged each other several times over the course of a hundred miles or so and finally the car pulled off the interstate and into a gas station. I decided to follow and I watched as she pulled up to the pumps.
I parked my truck on the side of the road and approached her.
"Are you okay?" I asked. I gestured toward my truck. "I've been behind you on the highway for a while now."
She tried to shield her face by looking down and away from my view.
"Did someone hit you?" I gently asked.
"I'm okay," she said.
"Who did that to you?"
She looked away in embarrassment. "It's nothing," she lied.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
She shrugged. "Long Island, maybe. I have a cousin there."
"Do you have enough money?"
I could see that she was scared and timid. "Please, mister," she begged. "Don't interfere."
"I'm not your husband," I said, noticing a wedding band on her finger. "I'm not going to hurt you."
She burst into tears and tried to collect herself.
"You need to make the pain go away," I said softly "You need to end your suffering and escape the beatings."
"I'm here, aren't I?" She said with anger. "Here I am on the road to nowhere."
"Don't go back," I advised her. "Leave and never look back. Don't worry about where you're going, just go."
She looked at me, unable to speak, but she nodded in reply, as if suddenly she finally understood. Her eyes were filled with emotion.
"I don't want to go back," she said, her voice full of sadness and disappointment spread across her face.
"Tomorrow has possibilities," I said.
She went into the gas station to pay for the gas and I trotted back to the truck, taking out ten one thousand dollar bills from my hidden locked cash box.
I met her at her car as she returned.
"Here," I said. "To get you down the road to somewhere."
She gasped when she saw the large bills in my hand. "Oh my God." She covered her mouth with one of her hands.
"What's wrong, Mommy?" her son asked from the car.
"Nothing, dear," she replied, trying not to upset her child.
"Promise you won't go back," I said, holding the money out to her.
"I couldn't take your money," she said, frightened and saddened at the same time.
"Why not?" I asked.
"I don't know you."
"Why would you do this?" She asked, her voice barely audible.
"Why not?" I asked. "Take it on the condition that you don't go back. Here's a chance to start a new."
She slowly took the money from my outstretched hand and then she looked deep into my eyes. "Thank you," she said, giving me a quick hug before getting into the car.
I handed her another hundred dollar bill through the window. "Get a motel room for the night. Rest. And then go find your cousin."
"I will," she said, with a such a look of serine peace on her face that for a moment I thought I was looking at an angel.
I walked back to my truck with a smile on my face.
The first rule of belonging to the If I Had a Million Dollars Club is that there are no guarantees and I resolved from the first time I gave cash to a stranger that I couldn't worry about what happened to them or what they did once they left my sight. That woman very well may have driven back to her husband and handed him the $10,000 in hopes that she could buy her safety, but that wasn't my decision. My intervention offered individuals a choice and a chance, but it was up to them to decide what they were going to do with their gift.
My random acts of kindness were usually spontaneous unplanned moments when life invited my assistance as a member of the If I had A Million Dollars Club. I didn't think about those instances and I didn't go out of my way looking for a chance to make a difference, but if I saw my opportunities I took advantage of them whenever they unfolded in front of me.
My Sherry Foundation interventions were much more deliberate and planned. The Foundation didn't advertise, but there was a web site and anybody with a computer and a search engine who typed in help resources were bound to have The Sherry Foundation pop upon their list.
I had on line access to the requests that were sent to the Foundation and I determined which causes and situations The Sherry Foundation helped. Sometimes I gave less money than what was requested, other times I gave more. Sometimes I'd have the firm check into a situation to make sure it was legitimate before the Foundation got involved. The Sherry Foundation could not support every cause but I tried to assist those that felt real to me and moved me in an emotional way.
The Sherry Foundation made several unsolicited donations to various local causes that were special to me. It established a scholarship at Blue County Technical School in the name of a friend's daughter who had died of cancer and another one at Greenville High School for Angela Johnson who was killed in a school shooting though I never met her.
The Sherry Foundation donated $50,000 to the Hillsboro High School Sports Booster Club in honor of former football Coach and my former school mate Jack Quincy who did a good job trying to keep my sonTerry on the straight and narrow when he was in high school, and I started a scholarship in the name of Mr. Danforth, another teacher who went out of his way to help Terry (I actually had the guy when I was in high school!).
The Sherry Foundation donated $50,000 to the Greenville Pickle Factory Employee Recognition Fund. I worked at the pickle factory for a couple of years in high school and I remembered how positive and terrific the owner treated his employees.
The Sherry Foundation donated $50,000 to the Step Up(!) Performing Arts Studio where Sheryl had a fantastic time performing as a dancer and actress, $50,000 to the amateur Serguci Baseball League, and $50,000 to the St. Anne's Catholic School where the grandson I never met was attending Pre-K. The Sherry Foundation also covered the boy's education for as long as he attended the school.
The Sherry Foundation donated $50,000 to the Sanderson Tractor-Trailer Driving School where I learned to drive a rig, $50,000 to the Green College General Scholarship Fund in Wendy's name, $25,000 to Riverside High School so its band could march in the Rose Bowl Parade, $25,000 to the Greenville Nursing Home Activity Fund that had done such a great job with my late mother when she was there, and $25,000 to the Sunrise Lake Recreational Department because I used to take the kids to the lake on nice summer afternoons.
I'd come across Foundation opportunities almost every time I read the Greenville News and Dispatch where I'd find stories of tragedy, need, and pain. I had a check issued to the Miller City family whose house burned to the ground, and to the family of the kid who became paralyzed following a sledding accident on Mt. Griffin.
The Foundation bought New England Patriot season passes for a Greenville Giant high school football player who lost his right leg below the knee to cancer, and it bought an electric wheelchair for a guy paralyzed in a car accident.
I read about seventy five year old Art Forester who once played local Serguci League Baseball back in the 1950s. The Greenville News and Dispatch did a story on him, now homeless and staying at an emergency shelter in Riverside. He said he'd like to return to Wisconsin where he was born and raised and still had a few family members. The Sherry Foundation bought Forester a plane ticket home and funded a Serguci League sponsored send-off for the former Riverside Royal ball player because I grew up watching Serguci League baseball and I admired the guys who played.
I enjoyed helping folks out with my individual random acts of kindness and through The Sherry Foundation but what meant the most to me was being able to help out my own family in small and subtle ways, even if they didn't know I was the great Oz pulling the levers behind the masked curtain.
I could have announced to the family that I was a millionaire and proceeded to dole out my money to them like it was candy but that felt fake, forced, and insincere to me and so I kept my secret to myself and tried to be helpful when I could.
Sheryl and I had maintained a strong and positive relationship. She married a wonderful guy named Don who had a stable career and they were doing a great job raising their two kids in a nice house in Greenville. I knew she and Don were going to make it when Sheryl accidentally gave away Don's cherished autographed Joe Dimaggio baseball bat a few days before their wedding. Don went through with the ceremony anyway!
Sheryl never faulted me for being away so much and she didn't blame me for the failure of my marriage. She called me nearly every day and she was interested in how I was doing. She worried about me when I was on the road and she was concerned about me being alone at home.
Sheryl tried to fix me up a few times with widowed mothers of some of her friends and people she knew from Don's work, but none of those attempts panned out and I assured her that I was doing just fine and that she needn't worry about me.
Sheryl and Don invited me for Sunday dinner a few times a month and Sheryl stopped by to check on me from time to time. She was a sweet daughter and a caring person, probably the one individual I trusted more than anybody else in my life. I occasionally thought about letting her in on my little secret because she was such an ardent participant in our private little If I Had a Million Dollars game growing up, but I didn't want money to come between us so I kept my mouth shut, although I often felt guilty about keeping my secret.
Sadly, my relationship with Terry was not healthy, close or satisfying. Terry came to resent me during his teenaged years because I missed many of his sports events and other interests being gone so much. Wendy didn't help matters, driving a wedge between us by siding with Terry and making me out to be the bad guy, especially when Terry started to get in trouble with drinking and other behavioral problems.
Terry was constantly acting out and things only got worse after Wendy left. Terry had little interest in spending weekends with me especially when Sheryl was off at college. I bailed him out of trouble on several occasions but he never thanked me or apologized for the trouble he caused, seemingly blaming me for all his woes.
I promised to be present for Senior Night during his last home game with the Hillsboro Football team but there was a bad accident on the turnpike I was hours late getting home, missing the Senior Night game. Terry never forgave me for my absence.
A few weeks later, Terry got in trouble with some of his pals. Wendy was out of town so I was the parent left to deal with the mess. I elected to let Terry sit in jail overnight to think about what he had done, but the other parents had come and gotten their kids, leaving Terry alone in the slammer. He refused to talk to me when I finally sprung him the next morning and he pretty much turned his back on me from that moment on.
Terry had no interest in pursing college. He got a job at a food warehouse and he went through several problematic relationships with various girls, including fathering a child out of wedlock which didn't please me. The last fight we had was about how he was going to find the means to support the child especially since he and the mother had no plans of marrying or even being together. As it turned out, the mother married someone else and Terry rarely saw his son.
Of course, I rarely saw my son either, by his choice. Sheryl would force Terry to show up for family holiday gatherings but otherwise he stayed off my radar screen and there wasn't much I could do about how he felt about me.
The last thing I wanted to do was buy my son's love or bribe him back with my new found riches. If Terry didn't want anything to do with me before I won the Power Ball, why should I think money would change the fundamental problems with our relationship after I came into the money?
I learned about Terry's impending nuptials from Sheryl long after the initial plans had already been put in motion. It was obvious that I wasn't being included in the pre-marriage planning. Wendy had taken control of the parental involvement and by the time I inquired about helping out, I was informed that the bride's family was taking care of the wedding costs and that Wendy and her husband would handle the rehearsal dinner. My contributions and assistance were neither required nor desired.
"Am I even going to be invited to the wedding?" I asked Sheryl when I realized that I was on the outs.
"Of course, Daddy!" she assured me but I could tell by the look on her face that she had her doubts too.
"Heather seems like the real deal," I said recalling my observations from the brief times I met her.
"Oh, she's the best thing that's ever happened to him, Dad," Sheryl agreed. "She's not a partier. She's kept him grounded. She's serious about being married. She's the first honest woman he's been with."
Sheryl would always be my cute little cupcake in my eyes and sometimes it was hard for me to realize that she was now a grown woman with a family of her own. She had put on a bit of weight after her two babies, but she was still baby-faced and her delightful personality was forever childlike in her excited outlook on life.
A wedding invitation arrived a week after I talked with Sheryl and I'm sure it was because Sheryl intervened on my behalf and made sure I was part of the day. I called Terry but he avoided me and never returned my calls.
"I'm sorry, Mr. McCarthy," Heather would say over the phone. "I told him you called the last time."
I finally went to see Heather when I knew Terry was at work, hoping that I could trust her. She was surprised when she opened the door to their small apartment and saw me standing there.
Heather Melnik was pretty in a down to earth girl next door kind of way. She wore her black hair cropped close to her cheeks and she was petite, fragile and rather shy.
"What are your honeymoon plans?" I asked my future daughter in law after she invited me inside.
"Well, we really can't afford much," she nervously admitted as we took seats in the small living area of the tiny apartment. "We're trying to save up for a house."
"How much do you have saved?"
"A couple of thousand," she boasted. "I'm very good at keeping tabs on our money. I've been disciplining Terry pretty good about not spending what we don't have!"
"I know Terry doesn't want my help."
"I can't get between the two of you, Mr. McCarthy," Heather said, embarrassed to be in such an awkward situation.
"Do you love this guy?" I wanted to know.
"He's the one I've been waiting for," she confirmed. "I know he's had a difficult past but I think I'm the girl for him."
"Then don't worry about anything else except your relationship," I suggested.
"I'm in charge of the honeymoon," she proudly revealed. "I was thinking of an overnight on Cape Cod, maybe."
"How much time does Terry have off for the honeymoon?"
"Let me take care of it," I said. "It will be our little secret."
"I don't know, Mr. McCarthy," she said with worry. "What if Terry found out?"
"He won't find out unless you tell him," I replied.
"How do I explain it then?"
"Just tell him it was a wedding gift."
"I really feel bad about you two not getting along, Mr. McCarthy," Heather said. "I've tried to talk to Terry about it but it's not something he wants to talk about."
"That's why you shouldn't get caught in the middle," I said with a smile, standing and getting ready to leave. "Good luck with saving for the house."
"Anything that helps us land our dream house is great."
"What is your dream house?" I made it sound like I was asking in passing.
"Oh God," she laughed. "Not that we could ever afford it, but I would absolutely die if we could live in one of those big houses in the flats section along the river. You know where all those doctors and stuff live?"
"Yeah, I wish I could afford one of those houses," I said with a laugh. "Well, good luck with the wedding plans and thanks for talking with me. You don't have to tell Terry I stopped by."
"Thanks, Mr. McCarthy. I think you're terrific. I'm sorry about everything that's happened between you and Terry."
"That's life," I said. "And it has nothing to do with you."
As soon as I left Heather, I drove along Flat River Road by the Blue River in the flats section of town. None of the houses were there when I was a kid, but Boone "The Builder" Reynolds had built a slew of them over the last twenty years. It so happened that there was a house for sale near the end of the road with a beautiful view of the river.
I had Steve Shannon put a down payment on the house and I arranged for the Sherry Foundation to purchase the property in trust for Terry and Heather McCarthy. The trust would also pay the annual property taxes. I arranged for the deed to the house to be delivered to the newlyweds at their wedding reception.
I remember playing the If I Had a Million Dollars game with Terry when he was about nine and he answered that he'd go to Disneyworld if he had a million dollars. We never did go but I figured maybe a honeymoon there now might be a nice idea.
I researched the place and talked with a few people I knew who had been to Disneyworld and the general consensus was that the theme park was a great place to make a fairy tale come true, just like Cinderella and her Prince Charming! The Disney Resort parks offered magic and romance with international cuisine, fun parks, a romantic atmosphere, beautiful accommodations, and excellent nightlife, with romantic fireworks, massages, and romantic candlelight dinners.
Heather asked me several times about my Honeymoon preparations and I would just smile and tell her not to worry.
"When will I find out where we're going?" She wanted to know, sounding like a kid at Christmas time.
"When you get there," I answered with a grin.
I remained on the sidelines as the wedding approached, letting Wendy and Terry have it their way. If my role was to be the estranged Dad and irrelevant ex-husband, so be it. I wasn't about to ruin the wedding by starting a family fight or getting Terry all defensive and reactionary preparing for the biggest day of his life. If he wanted to hate me, that was his choice.
Sheryl went out of her way to pay me extra attention in the weeks leading up to the wedding, sensing that I was the odd man out and annoyed at her mother for pushing me out of the picture.
"Mark's a great guy, but you're the groom's father," she complained.
"The groom isn't exactly a member of my fan club," I reminded Sheryl.
"I love my brother but he can be such a stubborn fool sometimes," she sighed.
"Let people think what they want to think," I said
"You shouldn't be such a doormat, Dad."
We were eating lunch at Johnny C's Diner before Sheryl went shopping for a suitable wedding present.
"So what do I get them?" She wondered. "They live in a matchbox. They have nothing."
I made a mental note to include $20,000 in the house gift to purchase furniture.
"Something domestic, like a blender," I suggested. "Or a vacuum cleaner."
"Come on, Dad. There must be something sexier I could get."
"It doesn't matter, sweetie," I told her. "It's the thought that counts."
Sheryl rolled her eyes. "Not to Terry."
"What would you get them if you had a million dollars?" I asked.
She laughed, always delighted to play the game. "A house," she answered.
Great minds think alike!
"He hates me, doesn't he?"
"He doesn't hate you, Dad," Sheryl answered with pity in her voice. "He just thinks he does."
"I should have quit my job when your mother became successful," I said in hindsight. "I should have become a stay at home dad. Then I would have been there for him. And you."
"You did the best you could Dad and you shouldn't beat yourself up about any of what happened," Sheryl insisted. "You were always there for me and you're the best dad I could have asked for."
"That means everything to me," I beamed. "But with your brother, well, I pissed him off and this is how he's repaying me."
"And it's his loss, Dad," Sheryl said.
"Yet I'm the one who's suffering."
"You told me once parents always make sacrifices."
"I just wish some sacrifices didn't hurt so much," I replied.
Wendy and her husband Mark spared no expense for the rehearsal dinner, a plush affair at the Lake Club, a swank private establishment on the shores of Sun Rise Lake. I was obviously the third wheel as Terry barely said hello and Wendy went out of her way to make Mark look like he was the President of the United States. I sat with Sheryl and Don and tried to make the best of the situation as the invisible father.
I tried not to feel sorry for myself when I arrived for the wedding ceremony the following day at the Garden Gazebo of the Greenville Country Club. I was the richest man in attendance (although nobody knew that) but I felt like the poorest person there knowing I was estranged from my own son, the groom.
Heather looked radiant with her hair pulled up in a beehive bun wearing a sleeveless dress whiter than new-fallen snow and looking like a picture of beauty. Wendy certainly looked wonderful as the mother of the groom, though she may have overdressed some for the garden patio wedding.
Sheryl and I bumped into the bride before the ceremony. We were standing in the doorway to the tiny dressing room watching as Heather went through her last minute primping.
"Relax," I said. "You're the picture-perfect bride.
"Storybook," Sheryl agreed.
Heather smiled nervously. "I hope so." She began nibbling on her bottom lip, her nerves showing. "Is everything okay out there?"
"Everything's fine," I laughed.
"Is everything okay here?" Sheryl teased.
"Yes. No. I don't know!" Heather couldn't help but laugh. "I'm so excited, but I'm so nervous too." She bit into her bottom lip, "What if I say the wrong thing? Or fall flat on my face!"
"You'll be perfect," I said with a wink.
"Have you seen Terry?"
"He's pacing a rut out there," Sheryl laughed. "He's been hovering in the foyer for almost an hour now."
"Is he okay?" A worried Heather wondered.
"He's fine," Sheryl reported.
"I'd just die if he backed out or something," Heather said.
"It's all good," I said, giving her the thumbs up sign. "Just relax and enjoy yourself."
Heather looked at me as if she was seeing me for the first time. Suddenly, she rushed across the room and pulled me into a tight embrace. Her eyes were watery when she pulled back.
"Thanks for everything, Mr. McCarthy," she said.
"Maybe you should start calling me Matt," I suggested, giving her hand an affectionate squeeze.
"Is there any updated information you want to give me?" She asked, obviously referring to the status of her honeymoon.
"No," I said with a grin and I laughed when she gave me a pout.
Sheryl and I returned to the gazebo. I sat with Don behind Wendy and Mark while Sheryl oversaw her kids Matty and Becca who were acting as ring bearer and flower girl respectively. Before long, Heather's dad was at her elbow walking her down the aisle and into the alcove where Terry and his best man were waiting.
The Melniks were nice people but they didn't know me and Wendy made sure that Mark was seen as the father figure in Terry's life, so I remained the truck driving stranger in Heather's parents' eyes.
"She's beautiful," I whispered to Wendy in front of me as Heather and her dad made their way down the aisle.
"Yes she is," Wendy beamed.
Terry and Heather were married by a justice of the peace in a perfect ceremony that went off perfectly. Everybody cheered when Terry kissed the bride after the vows were completed.
The reception was held inside the Garden Club of Greenville's Country Club. Wendy was civil but detached, making a few sarcastic innuendos about Terry making it to this wonderful day despite my failings, but Sheryl did a great job of running interference and keeping me out of the crossfire.
The newlyweds were a stunning couple, Terry in his stark black tuxedo, Heather in her frost-white gown, sparkling and shimmering under the bright lights of the dance floor. Their excitement and cheer were contagious and the guests proceeded to have a grand time, though I barely got a chance to speak to Terry who went out of his way to go the other way when he saw me approaching.
I kept a low profile watching the newlyweds dance and laugh enjoying the romance of the moment, determined not to let a family fight ruin the happiness of the day. I was able to dance with Sheryl and a couple of family friends who had watched Terry grow up and also watched my marriage to Wendy fall apart.
The buffet was delicious and I wasn't shy about enjoying every dish offered. I socialized with the guests, thanked the Melnick's for putting on a wonderful wedding and great reception, and tried to play the role of civil estranged father to the groom as best I could Everybody was on their best behavior, saying and doing just the right thing to keep the peaceful harmony, though Terry was content on saying little to nothing to me.
Just after the best man and Maid of Honor made their little toasts and speeches, a gentleman in a tuxedo entered the Garden Club and presented the wedding couple with a large envelope.
A surprised and confused Heather opened the envelope, pulled out several pieces of paper and suddenly screamed out in shocked disbelief.
"We won a house!" She yelled. "Oh my God! We won a house!"
People gathered around the bride and groom's table to see what she was screaming about. The Sherry Foundation was presenting the newlyweds with a $325,000 house on the Blue River with taxes paid in perpetuity and an extra check of $20,000 for furniture.
People were stunned, shocked, elated, and bowled over by the news and Terry looked like he was going to pass out as he stared at photographs of his new home.
"How the hell do you win a house?" Sheryl asked me once all the commotion had died down.
"Beats me," I said with a shrug of my shoulders.
"And what the heck is the Sherry Foundation?" She demanded.
"Never heard of it," I replied. "But what a lucky break for your brother and his new bride, huh?"
"This doesn't feel right," she said with suspicion.
"Let's just enjoy the moment, okay sweetie?" I said with a grin, giving her a hug. "Your brother's married. Let's be happy for him."
Although Heather was obviously overwhelmed by the news of the house, she kept giving me worried looks throughout the afternoon, unsure if I was going to come through on the honeymoon promise, but all eyes were drawn to the first green located outside the Garden Club when a helicopter landed on it at 5:00.
A man in a tuxedo entered the reception and announced that the helicopter was for the newlyweds who were scheduled to be whisked away in the bird to start their honeymoon.
The wedding guests stood gawking as the bride and groom headed for the helo, with Heather looking back at me with wonderment in her eyes. I waved at Heather and winked.
Heather called a few days after she and Terry returned from their Florida Disneyworld honeymoon, which Heather told me was the most wonderful and enjoyable experience of her life.
"I can't thank you enough for what you did for us, Matt," she said.
"You didn't tell Terry did you?"
"No, but it bothers me that he doesn't know who made our honeymoon so spectacular," she said. "He's been on cloud nine about the house and the honeymoon. He's says we're the luckiest newlyweds on the planet and I agree."
"Thank you so much."
"Well congratulations," I said. "Good people deserve good rewards."
My relationship with Terry didn't change even with his marriage but Heather occasionally stopped by for a visit when Terry was working.
"I thought Terry would lose the chip on his shoulder once we got married, but he can't seem to let go of the past," my new daughter in law told me. "You're the only thing in our marriage we can't talk about."
"Time will tell," I said. "Don't keep bringing it up with him. Just live your life."
"I want you to be part of my life."
Terry and Heather moved into their large dream house and life got back to some sense of normalcy. Heather invited me to see the house one day when Terry was golfing and I had to admit the Sherry Foundation had done them good! I was feeling slightly guilty that perhaps I had gone a bit overboard with Terry when the more deserving Sheryl hadn't received a penny from the Sherry Foundation, mostly because I hadn't come up with subtle way of bestowing gifts upon her and her family.
The months passed and The Sherry Foundation continued to make charitable donations and I continued my random acts of kindness whenever I saw the opportunity and was so moved.
I returned home from a road trip late one Friday afternoon to find Sheryl waiting for me on my front porch.
"Hi, sweetheart," I said. "Anything wrong?"
"Dad, if you had a million dollars…" she started to say.
"I burst out laughing as I let us in the door. "You didn't come over here to play the if I Had A Million Dollars game, did you?"
"If you had a million dollars or more, would you start some sort of foundation or something?" She wanted to know as she took a seat on the couch and peered at me.
I sat in my favorite easy chair and looked at her.
"That's an idea," I said, nodding my head.
"Do you know anything about this Sherry Foundation?"
"Just what I heard at the wedding," I lied. "Why do you ask?"
"Because nobody wins a frigin' house unless you're on Extreme Makover," She complained. "There's something fishy about how Terry and Heather got that house."
"Paperwork looked pretty legal and fancy to me," I said calmly.
"I just don't buy it that a foundation would give two total strangers a house for no reason," Sheryl said. "And what kind of name is Sherry anyway? Remember when Grandpa was getting the cobwebs in his head and he kept calling Terry and me Sherry all the time, juxtaposing our names?"
"That was cute," I agreed, having forgotten that tidbit when I came up with the name for the Foundation.
"Does that strike you as more than coincidental that Terry would win a house from the Sherry Foundation?"
"No," I answered.
"I started researching this Sherry Foundation," Sheryl informed me. "Did you know that a whole bunch of local places have received money from this so called Foundation?"
"I didn't," I replied.
"I found out that our parish got a half a million bucks donation a while ago. From The Sherry Foundation!"
"You don't know anything about that, Dad?"
"I don't go to church anymore," I reasoned. "Besides, that's your mother's parish. Did you ask her about it?"
"Mom never played the If I Had A Million Dollars game with us," Sheryl said, giving me the suspicious eye. "I doubt she'd give the church anything anyway after they wouldn't annul your marriage."
"Maybe somebody died," I suggested. "And the estate went through the Sherry Foundation."
"They gave St. Anne's a whole bunch of money and they're paying for Trey's tuition," Sheryl reported. "Does that strike you as strange?"
"Maybe your mother had something to do with that," I said.
"Hillsboro High School got money. Step Up(!) where I used to go. The Serguci League. Somebody started a scholarship at Green College in Mom's name."
"Maybe it was Mark."
"The frigin' pickle factory got a huge sum, Dad," Sheryl complained. "Didn't you say that was the best job you ever had, at the pickle factory?"
"I did," I admitted.
"Heather says you paid for their honeymoon. All those frills and thrills? A helicopter! How did you afford that, Dad?"
"Terry doesn't know about the honeymoon, so let's keep that one between you and me, okay?"
"Terry doesn't want to know the truth because it's easier to be in denial," Sheryl observed. "But, you? Come on, Dad. Are you going to sit here and tell me you have nothing to do with this Sherry Foundation?" Her arms were folded across her chest and she was frowning at me the way she used to when she was ten years old and wasn't getting her way.
"Does it really matter?" I asked.
"Does what really matter?" She asked, suddenly confused.
"Who is behind whatever this Sherry Foundation is supposed to be?"
Sheryl was taken aback by my question. "Well, no, I guess not," she said with hesitance. "It's just that…" Her voice trailed off.
I smiled knowing what was really bothering her. She got mad when she saw me grinning.
"It's not funny, Dad," she said. "Terry got a house! He won't even talk to you and he got a house!"
I nodded with understanding and looked at her straight in the eyes. "Remember one of our all time favorite movies?" I asked. "Field of Dreams? How many times did we see that one together over the years?"
"A lot," she admitted, not sure where I was going with this one.
"Remember near the end when Shoeless Joe Jackson is taking Terrence Mann with him back to Heaven through the cornfield and Ray Kinsella wants to know what's in it for him?"
She blushed at the realization that she had been called out just like Shoeless Joe had called out Ray. I patiently waited while she processed that thought and considered why she was so upset with me.
"I guess I wanted to know what's in it for me," she admitted with embarrassment, not able to look me in the eyes.
"It's okay," I assured her. "I understand."
"I'm sorry I brought it up," she mumbled.
"Is there anything you need?" I asked.
"Is there anything you want?"
"No, not really," she admitted.
"You would let me know, right?"
She looked at me with wide open eyes, suddenly realizing what I was saying and that she had been right all along. "Yes, Daddy," she said softly. "I would let you know."
"Good things happen to those who wait, Sheryl," I told her.
She stared at me for the longest time. "You're the most amazing person I know," she finally said.
"Let's keep that one between the two of us," I suggested
She got off the couch and came over to the easy chair, sitting in my lap just like she used to when she was a kid.
"Daddy," she decided. "If I had a million dollars, I'd be just like you," she said, wrapping her arms around my neck.
"That's worth more than all the money in the world, sweetie," I said, hugging her back and kissing her cheek like I did when she was little.
She wiped away tears from her eyes, got off the chair and started for the door.
"Wait," I said, following her and opening the door to the downstairs closet. "I was saving this for Christmas but I might as well give it to you now."
"What is it?" Sheryl asked.
I pulled a baseball bat from the closet and handed it to her. Her eyes opened wide as she stared at it. "It's not signed by him is it?"
"Of course," I laughed, turning the bat so she could see Joe Dimaggio's signature on the wood. "Merry Christmas, Sheryl."
"Oh, Daddy," she said. "I was going to do this if I had a million dollars!"